Look up “intelligence” and you’ll find defining concepts such as understanding, learning and reasoning. But is an intelligent business one that can do these things for itself without human help — or is it one in which its employees and customers understand, learn and reason better? We could tie ourselves in knots trying to decide. Or we could do the intelligent thing and make it simple: we’ll take both.

Simplistically, we can break a business down as follows:

  • What the business is: its people (workforce) and its systems
  • What the business strives for: to satisfy its customers and make a profit
Ideally, intelligence should apply to each of these four business areas: systems, workforce, customer satisfaction and profitability. So, let’s address each one.


Lights-out, fully automated facilities exist — although only when circumstances justify their expense. However, automation is not necessarily intelligence. With big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, businesses can be smarter about their systems. For example, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) has been running a predictive maintenance pilot to help it spot possible infrastructure failure in advance. Advantages include fewer power outages, safer working conditions and an enhanced reputation as a national power provider.


Smart businesses realize that people are still an essential part of their activities, and that technology is often more useful by helping people rather than by trying to replace them. Take Paladion, a cyber security services provider with extensive facilities in India. Its security engineers use the company’s AI platform to rapidly sort through mountains of cyber security data and pick out serious incidents. The engineers then decide how to handle the incidents in the best way possible. As a result, the company is improving incident response and reducing security risk, while involving fewer people.

Customer satisfaction

Ricacorp Properties Limited in Hong Kong is pushing the envelope of customer satisfaction by using AI to better comprehend its customers’ desires. In some cases, Ricacorp agents know more about what their customers want than the customers themselves do. Does this approach work for Ricacorp? Well, the company’s earnings rose by up to 40 per cent in one of the most competitive property markets on the planet, which speaks for itself.


Cainiao Network Technology, launched by e-commerce giant Alibaba and a consortium of shipping companies, is delivering profitability through its centralized logistics information system. Cainiao provides the delivery people, the warehouses, and the delivery services, as well as the analytics to help suppliers accelerate delivery and reduce costs.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Businesses become even more intelligent when the intelligence crosses over from one area to another. For example, TEPCO is boosting customer confidence as well as safeguarding its systems through preventive maintenance. Alibaba, a “born-digital” company, leverages intelligence across systems, customer satisfaction and profitability. When intelligence is applied to all four areas, holistically, a business can truly be called intelligent, even if it applies intelligence to one area at a time to get there.